DRAMATIS were a band of GARY NUMAN sidemen who toured the skies, but came into being as their own entity after their boss prematurely formalised his retirement from live performance at Wembley Arena in April 1981.
Their debut album ‘For Future Reference’ released later that year did not sell well despite the Numan voiced Top40 hit single ‘Love Needs No Disguise’, but it became something of a cult favourite.
After Denis Haines departed over disagreements about touring, the remaining trio of RRussell Bell, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley played a series of live dates and issued a trio of singles ‘Face On The Wall’, ‘The Shame’ and ‘I Can See Her Now’ which were exhibiting a musical progression and a potential breakthrough.
However, a combination of frustrations with their label Rocket Records and their former boss’ desire to return to touring led to DRAMATIS being put in hiatus, as Bell, Payne and Sharpley returned to the Numan fold.
In 2012, there had been plans to DRAMATIS to reunite but the untimely passing of Sharpley led to a period of uncertainty as Bell and Payne grieved for their bandmate.
2019 saw RRussell Bell and Chris Payne make their belated solo debuts but for the start of the new decade, there was the unexpected announcement of a new DRAMATIS single entitled ‘A Torment of Angels’. Written by Bell and with a prog synth template likely to satisfy fans of ULTRAVOX, Payne said: “RRuss is a very clever composer. He has always managed to create incredible memorable tunes but not in a standard way. His construction of chords and melody are very ‘angular’ and never follow convention. This is what makes him so unique as a writer.”
With work now progressing on a second DRAMATIS album, RRussell Bell kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about why it has taken so long to follow-up ‘For Future Reference’ and the possibility of live dates…
After the various false starts, it was a pleasant surprise to hear there was a new DRAMATIS single to start the decade?
Yes, we finally got it together. To be honest, losing Ced was a massive blow that seriously knocked us back.
Even now, whenever I program a drum track, I always try to imagine what Ced might have played and attempt that.
Also, with Chris living in France, it was difficult for us to get together regularly and our studio software isn’t entirely compatible so working purely online is difficult.
You recently released your debut solo EP ‘Like-A-Human’, so what inspired you to head down the DRAMATIS route?
I totally updated my studio a little while ago and that was the impetus to start recording a backlog of songs I’d written, as well as writing new stuff. I really enjoyed recording the ‘Like-A-Human’ EP and it was a big learning curve getting the whole thing ready for release, doing the artwork for the CD, organising worldwide distribution, filling in tax forms for the US and packing and posting merchandise from home.
We used to have record companies to do all that crap but it’s more than worth the effort to be independent. Getting the EP out gave me enough confidence to then look at finishing the second DRAMATIS album with Chris. We were both ready for it.
What were DRAMATIS’ original influences and what have you been listening to recently to help point out a direction?
Everyone seems to be obsessed with Influences and genres these days.
My influences comprise the sum total of everything I’ve ever heard and learnt throughout my life but I don’t listen to music, not at home and not in the car because I really don’t want to be influenced by what other people are doing.
If you try to follow a trend you’re always going to be behind it. For me it’s important to write and record music that I like, regardless of whether other people like it. I think you have to be true to yourself and when you’re an independent artist you don’t have a record label saying, “Quick! Jump on this bandwagon” so you can follow your own path. That kind of freedom is wonderful.
Of course, it also gives you plenty of opportunities to fall flat on your face. I like that. However, going back to the original question, Gary has obviously been a big influence on me because he was a major part of my musical life for a decade, so I’ll happily and gratefully put my hands up to that one.
How would you describe the new DRAMATIS material?
Personally, I’m aiming for the musical equivalent of a barely controlled explosion, with epic synths, wailing guitars, orchestral strings and horns, multiple tribal drum tracks and soaring melodies. That’s what I’m aiming for. It’s not for me to decide if I’m anywhere near achieving that. It might sound like a wet fart to some people but you can’t please everyone.
How has writing and recording for this new music differed from when you last wrote as DRAMATIS?
I’m not aware of having changed the way I write songs. Recording is easier now in my own studio with modern equipment.
In fact, recording is so easy now that anyone, even someone tone deaf with no sense of rhythm can put together something that sounds a bit like a proper song, because the software gives you the rhythm and tunes and all the bum note.
But that doesn’t mean anyone can write a good song! I constantly have to fight the urge to rely too heavily on software, it can sap your creativity and make you sound anodyne and derivative.
‘A Torment Of Angels’ and your solo track ‘Like A Human’ saw you changing your vocal style and singing in a much lower key?
Yes, the funny thing is, when we recorded the first DRAMATIS album, we recorded the backing tracks first, then I’d lock myself in a room and write the lyrics. Then we’d start putting the vocals down, that’s when I discovered that they were all in keys that were a bit high for my voice. Basically, I’m a baritone. The verses of ‘I only Find Rewind’ are at a comfortable level for me and that’s around the pitch I write songs at now.
There was a song called ‘Retro Alien Thing’ that previewed in 2014. What was that about and will it be part of the new album?
That was an early song that Chris came up with, I wrote a totally different set of lyrics with a different melody, so now we have two songs with the same backing track. One of them might be on the album. Basically, we’re going to record as many songs as possible and then pick the best ones for the album.
Is ‘Sand & Stone’ which was played live during your tour in 1982 going to part of this new album?
A properly recorded studio version of ‘Sand & Stone’ is a contender for the album. I’ll let you know if it makes the cut as soon as we’ve decided.
Lyrically many of DRAMATIS’ songs reflected the dystopia of the times, and that all seems to have come full circle?
Yeah, it’s basically the same old shit happening to different people, which pretty much sums up the history of the human race. We never seem to learn anything from history.
So we’re just doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again. At least it gives us songwriters something to whinge about.
Are there any songs from the DRAMATIS reboot that you can tell us apart and how they’re coming together?
Today I’m working on a track called ‘Time Flies’. It has a floaty ethereal chorus, a slightly edgy verse and a weird bit in the middle that might well get the boot and be replaced by something with less oddness.
You and Chris have been appearing with and as support for your former boss at various points over the last ten years, what has that been like?
Playing with Gary is always fun. He’s so easy to work with and also, I finally got to play at the Albert Hall, even if it was just one song. Brilliant.
There was talk of a remastered ‘For Future Reference’ with its associated Rocket-era tracks coming out, what’s the state of play there?
Yes, that’s part of the plan but we still need to track down the original tapes. We also need them to assemble some backing tracks for live gigs as there’s only two of us now, so we obviously can’t play everything live.
If we can’t find them, we’ll have to re-record them, which will be a major pain in the arse. If anyone knows where they are please get in touch with me via Chi, it would be massively appreciated.
What are your favourite DRAMATIS songs from that first phase? Are there any particular memories, either personal or during recording attached to them that you can recall?
I think my favourites from that era are ‘I Only Find Rewind’, ‘The Shame’ and ‘Love Needs No Disguise’. I also have a soft spot for ‘I Can See Her Now’.
You played a Chapman Stick on ‘For Future Reference’, did you ever get the hang of it because it looks a bugger to play?
Yes, it was good for bass parts because it went down to bottom C and the left hand fingering was pretty easy for a guitarist but the upper register tapping with the left hand was tricky and also sounded like a weedy clavinet. It needed quite a few effects to make it sound half decent. I wasn’t using it very much, so I chopped it in for a drum machine and a microphone.
Do you still have your Moog Liberation?
Yes, I still have the Moog Liberation. It’s in the attic in London. God, that was a heavy bit of kit to lug around the stage. I haven’t used it for years because I lost the 16 core lead that attaches it to the rack unit.
DRAMATIS playing live a possibility in the future?
Yes, DRAMATIS playing live is a very distinct possibility in the not too distant future.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to RRussell Bell
DRAMATIS play Birmingham Blue Orange Theatre on Sunday 13the June 2021 and London Water Rats on Wednesday 16th June 2021
Stephen Roper is best known for ‘Back Stage – A Book Of Reflections’, a comprehensive account of GARY NUMAN’s imperial years between 1979 – 1981.
The book featured contributions from GARY NUMAN himself and others who were there like band members Chris Payne, RRussell Bell and the late Cedric Sharpley, plus support acts OMD, SIMPLE MINDS and the sadly departed NASH THE SLASH.
‘Back Stage’ was a remarkable achievement for an independent publication. On seeing the hardback edition, GARY NUMAN said: “That’s why I enjoyed reading this book so much. It gives a voice to so many people that were vitally important to me, and to what happened to me, in those early days. I was grateful to them then, and I remain grateful to them now”.
More recently, Roper has ventured into gig promotion, hosting a successful live appearance by former KRAFTWERK member WOLFGANG FLÜR, supported by Glasgow combo ANALOG ANGEL at Norwich Epic Studios in June 2015.
And now, he has joined forces with The Electricity Club to present TEC004. Returning to Epic Studios, the event will take place on SATURDAY 5th NOVEMBER 2016 and feature MARSHEAUX, KID KASIO and RODNEY CROMWELL.
With a pre-show memorabilia celebrating the legacy of Synth Britannia, it promises to be an essential day out in the East Anglian cathedral city.
Stephen Roper chatted to The Electricity Club about his various endeavours in his love of Numan and electronic pop music…
Your book ‘Back Stage’ was a very well received artefact within the GARY NUMAN fan community?
Yes, it was mainly because it covers Gary’s rise to becoming one of the world’s biggest stars. And rather than me writing my take on it, it’s told by the people who were there. Part of it answers many questions which always had fans wondering what really happened.
Who were your favourite interviews in the book?
That’s a hard one as they were all fantastic. There’s a great story of when Jim Kerr rang me at work and asked if we could do the interview now, and I had to say no.
He then rang me back later that night and asked if it was ok then. Yet again it wasn’t, but we did it later and he really is a fantastic guy.
My favourite has to be Chris Payne or was it NASH THE SLASH or Andy McCluskey? All had me falling off my chair laughing… but all joking aside, everyone was brilliant and I made some very good friends.
Of course, your book features the much-missed Ced Sharpley…
Cedric was believe it or not, the hardest person to get hold of and became a very good friend in the short time I knew him.
He remembered everything in great detail, the biggest problem we had was that we would tail-off in different directions and talk for hours about many things apart from the book. And I can honestly say he never had a bad word to say about anyone, a true gentleman.
And he would have loved to have worked with Gary again, even though some have said different… this was a question I asked him and as always, he didn’t have a bad word to say about Gary. Gary did ask me about this and was pleased to hear that Cedric had no hard feelings towards him.
GARY NUMAN actually contributed to the book, what did the man himself think of the finished product?
I did ask him his thoughts and he said he had really enjoyed it, it was a great shame I couldn’t have done a bigger interview with him but alas it never happened… I blame his them management! *laughs*
Funny quick story, I was showing Gary a rough copy of ‘Back Stage’ with some stage design plans and his eyes lit up and he started just talking about them, really remembering everything… so I said “see your memory isn’t that bad”, to which he gave me a strange look, then just laughed!
You’ve gone towards the e-Book route for the book’s second edition. How do you feel about this brave new world of digital with music, books and magazine?
It’s a strange one, but we have to keep up with the times and the good thing with the digital age is that it’s instant and you can add so much more at no cost.
With the e-Book version of ‘Back Stage’, I’ve been able to add hundreds more photos in colour which I couldn’t add to the hardback version because of the costs. Postage outside of the UK to say, the USA, was over £13 whereas the e-Book has no postage cost… so yep I’m all for it.
The rise of digital could almost be a subject for a Numan lyric?
“Download in the Park, where the Mac men meet…” *laughs*
Is a follow-up to ‘Back Stage’ covering Numan’s comeback ever likely? You spoke to Joe Hubbard and Andy Coughlan, both bassists in this era?
Yes, I did make a start and as you’ve said, interviewed Joe and Andy who are both excellent people and had some amazing stories to tell. The problem was that things started to go a little wrong around the ‘I Assassin’ Tour in ‘82 onwards and I think I would have had Gary’s lawyer onto me in days! *laughs*
But you never know I might just restart it…
You ran your first live event in June 2015 when you hosted WOLFGANG FLÜR and ANALOG ANGEL at Epic Studios. How was it for you?
It was fantastic evening and nice to meet the legend that is WOLFGANG FLÜR.
And seeing ANALOG ANGEL play live was the highlight of the night.
There was a huge amount going on behind the scenes, which can only be put down to a comedy of errors… if Wolfgang’s UK people had bothered to read the contact, it would have never happened… but apart from that, it was a well turned-out event which I think everyone enjoyed, I know I did.
The music business is a funny old game… what do you think you’d learnt from your experience?
Be careful who you think your friends are!!! I’ve worked on about 4-5 Numan albums starting with ‘Living Ornaments 80’ (the 2005 remastered release) and helped out on ‘The Touring Principle’ and ‘Micromusic’ DVDs, plus NASH THE SLASH’s ‘Live in London’ 2008 CD, and then of course ‘Back Stage’. Some will bend over backwards to help and others feel that you owe them something. But all-in-all, I’ve learnt a lot and that there really are some nice decent people out there, more than happy to help.
There are quite a few people involved in writing about electronic music now, who seemingly can’t tell their tape recorders from their drum machines…
And if you can’t tell the difference there, then what chance is there of anything else being right? It’s a difficult one because if someone tells me there’s an electronic magazine or website, I’m thinking old-time stuff from the late 70s into the 80s, Moogs wall-to-wall synths etc… but if we are talking dance stuff, which OK has the synths on, then sorry I’ve no interest.
What will make TEC004 featuring MARSHEAUX, KID KASIO + RODNEY CROMWELL special?
MARSHEAUX’s new album ‘Ath.Lon’ is without doubt, the best album I’ve heard since Numan’s ‘Telekon’, in that I’m loving every track on it which is a rare thing these days.
Plus we have KID KASIO and RODNEY CROMWELL on the bill and not one, but two awesome DJ sets. So if all that doesn’t make for a special night of synthpop music, then I don’t know what would.
I’ll be bringing a selection of GARY NUMAN Fan Club items from my own personal collection for the memorabilia display during the afternoon of TEC004. I hope people will find this stuff of interest, because it captures a fabulous moment in time when the synth music ruled the world.
Following the retirement of GARY NUMAN with his spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in April 1981, four of his erstwhile backing band officially went solo under the moniker of DRAMATIS.
RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley toured the skies with the Machine Music pioneer and had been instrumental (pun totally intended) in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation. While success for DRAMATIS for not exactly assured, several things were in place for a smooth transition to independence.
First the quartet had signed a deal with ELTON JOHN’s Rocket Records. Secondly, they had also secured the services as engineer and co-producer of Simon Heyworth who had worked with on MIKE OLDFIELD’s ‘Tubular Bells’. And finally, they had use of Ridge Farm Studios, one of the best residential recording facilities in the UK at the time.
DRAMATIS were a brainy bunch. Guitarist RRussell Bell had a degree in Physics/Psychology and was versatile enough to handle unusual instruments such as the Moog Liberation, Chapman Stick and Vi-Tar electric violin.
Drummer Ced Sharpley previously had cult success with prog rockers DRUID who were signed to EMI and had appeared on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’; his clean, dynamic drum breaks on ‘The Pleasure Principle’s tracks such as ‘Cars’, ‘Films’ and ‘Metal’ became very influential within the US Hip-Hop community.
Handling mostly keyboard duties, both Chris Payne and Denis Haines were classically schooled; Payne had also co-written VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ and been noted for his viola playing on GARY NUMAN standards such as ‘M.E.’ and ‘Complex’. He had even mastered a Medieval reed instrument called a Cornamuse. Meanwhile it was Haines who had played the piano version of ‘Down In The Park’ that made it onto the flip of ‘I Die:You Die’. However, it was exactly this type of musical background which the British music press still had total disdain for in the wake of punk.
Released after GARY NUMAN’s Wembley concerts, the grandiose debut single ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ showed DRAMATIS’ potential immediately. Celebrating the adventurous spirit of NASA, it coincided with the launch of the first Space Shuttle and sounded like a cross between ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA and VISAGE.
But it was too much for the savage journalists who already had their knives resharpened following usage on their former employer. “We had a lot to prove musically because GARY NUMAN had been getting so much flak in the press which reflected on us.”
Chris Payne remembers, “They said the music was naïve, the band couldn’t play and that was quite hurtful.” Unfortunately, comments like “chicken without its head” were being banded about while others couldn’t get their brain cells round a catchy vocodered chorus sung in Latin!
Undeterred, a follow-up single ‘Oh! 2025’ was put out but this was quite pedestrian synth rock compared to ‘Ex Luna Scientia’. Incidentally, its beautiful B-side ‘The Curtain’ was later recycled by ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie for a solo track called ‘Requiem’!
With Rocket Records still sniffing for a hit, the next single ‘No-One Lives Forever’ was swiftly issued. This was much better; the anthemic chorus, deep chanting bridge and Bell’s heavy metal guitar solo contradicting the dystopian resignation of Haines’ lead vocal.
It even got played on Radio 1 by Steve Wright although he was unimpressed: “I know it’s deliberate but those vocals are awful”. It would be fair to say vocals were DRAMATIS’ Achilles heel. GARY NUMAN on the other hand said on the review show Roundtable that it was “the best thing they’ve done yet”.
To attract interest in their forthcoming album, Rocket Records came up with a bold strategy with the release of ‘No-One Lives Forever’…they put a one minute sample each of four songs on the B-side. The idea was ahead of its time as this type of clip based promotion is now standard practice on many music websites. Alas, the single wasn’t a hit and the album (which had already been advertised in the press) was now delayed.
A total remix of the album was made at the behest of the label while a new sleeve depicting the band as futuristic university lecturers was necessitated.
“The initial idea was supposed to be a Victorian glass display in the British museum with us as an exhibit” recalled RRussell Bell, “The concept of glass cases came in but it was like four glass telephone boxes with us standing in them in an empty office. There was nothing British Museum about it. We looked at the pictures and they were crap. So that idea was scrapped!”
Meanwhile while they were recording the album, GARY NUMAN paid a visit to his former colleagues at Ridge Farm Studios before he departed on an ambitious round-the-world flight. He particularly enjoyed the backing track of a song that had been written about their days touring together. Entitled ‘Love Needs No Disguise’, Numan asked if he could sing it. The band happily accepted.
With Sharpley’s sparse drum machine intro dressed with his timbale rolls and Haines’ stark piano chords, this was a lot barer than Numan’s own recordings although he himself had been experimenting with minimalism on ‘Dance’. Some pretty guitar and viola was the final touch and the track was released as a joint GARY NUMAN & DRAMATIS single on Numan’s label Beggars Banquet. It reached No 33 in the UK chart but not as high as many had hoped. The parent album ‘For Future Reference’ then slipped out in December 1981 almost unnoticed. It was though Rocket had decided to pull back on it.
Overall, the album had many impressive moments but also had several flaws. Featuring all the singles, one of the highlights was ‘Turn’, voiced by Chris Payne and throwing in everything from a classical intro, progressive interludes and pounding drums to clattering rhythm box, synth solos and angry if slightly ham vocals.
The following ‘Take Me Home’ had the drama of a vintage silent movie with Chaplin-esque piano and strings heart wrenching as Haines cried like a disturbed child, repeating the title over and over again. Haines’ PETER GABRIEL impression could grate and was not to everyone’s tastes but his ‘On Reflection’ was another musical highlight on the second half of the LP, a sad lament about lost friendships.
With a more conventional if limited rock oriented vocal, RRussell Bell had his moment with the incessant ‘I Only Find Rewind’ while ‘Human Sacrifice’ possessed aggressive tribal synthetics but was spoiled by a weak chorus.
DRAMATIS’ only album so far showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities and while the use of four different lead vocalists confused the continuity of the album, instrumentally, there was much to enjoy. Chris Payne certainly agrees: “I think it’s a really good album. My only regret was that we didn’t have just one person who could have sung everything to make it more of a cohesive album. We had Gary as a guest which was fair enough but me singing a track… c’mon? We should have stuck to one singer, that was a big mistake… but musically, it stands up.”
Very much the outsider even when he was in GARY NUMAN’s band, Haines left DRAMATIS after he declined to tour the album. He later released a Numan-esque 12” single in Germany called ‘It Spoke To Me Of You’ and an ambient solo album entitled ‘The Listening Principle’ which featured versions of ‘The Curtain’ and ‘Take Me Home’ retitled as ‘In Loving Memory’.
But in Spring 1982, the remaining trio released a great seven inch pairing featuring the ULTRAVOX-like ‘Face On The Wall’ backed with the neo-classical jig of ‘Pomp & Stompandstamp’. They then topped it with ‘The Omen’ Goes Disco magnificence of ‘The Shame’ a few months later although further chart action didn’t materialise.
RRussell Bell thought it was one of their best songs and in a 2007 interview with NuReference amusingly recalled: “the line ‘train crash killed the heroine’ was about a starlet who died in a train crash. But the music press thought it was about heroin, which shows how bad their spelling is and also how f*cking stupid they are to even think I’d write a song about the most evil, insidious drug in the world. However, the guitar solo was pretty cool.”
Following an appearance on ‘The David Essex Showcase’ (a short lived BBC version of ‘Opportunity Knocks’ which also featured THOMAS DOLBY and TALK TALK amongst others!), their final John Punter produced single ‘I Can See Her Now’ reached No 57 in late 1982. But just as they were about to make a breakthrough with a second album on the way, the politics of the music business had worn the threesome down.
While losing interest in their own project, GARY NUMAN meanwhile had got the bug back for touring and played clubs in the US during the summer of 1982 with a new backing band which featured Rob Dean, ex-JAPAN and soon-to-be-in-demand fretless bassist Pino Palladino. However, for his forthcoming ‘Warriors’ assault, Numan decided to call up his former band. With the prospect of more secure employment, DRAMATIS were no more.
Fast forward to 2000 and with GARY NUMAN getting critical reappraisal for his imperial years between 1978 to 1980, ‘For Future Reference’ was rather misleadingly reissued and promoted as a lost TUBEWAY ARMY album under the title ‘The Dramatis Project’ by Castle Select. The CD was pressed from a vinyl cutting master while the seamless join between ‘Turn’ and ‘Take Me Home’ was spoiled by the atmospheric intro of the latter being faded out and then restarting again on its chilling ivory motif after a gap!
Meanwhile, the clueless booklet notes also implied that Messrs Bell, Haines, Payne and Sharpley were actually members of TUBEWAY ARMY… most GARY NUMAN fans know the band effectively didn’t exist when ‘The Blue Album’ was released in 1978!
RRussell Bell was dismayed when asked about this reissue: “Oh don’t! The DRAMATIS ‘project’, it was never a project, it was a band!” But he had good news for fans: “I’ve recently got back control of the album and bought back the rights, so we now own it again. And DRAMATIS is back together and releasing the second album”.
The excellent post-For Future Reference singles will be making their belated digital debut too: “The Canadian version of ‘For Future Reference’ had ‘Face On The Wall’ on so we’re going to put it on that while ‘I Can See Her Now’ and ‘The Shame’ will be on the new album as two bonus tracks, we’re not going mess with them” says Bell.
Hopefully, B-sides like ‘Lady DJ’, ‘Pomp & Stompandstamp’ and ‘One Step Ahead’ will be resurrected too. But at last, there will be a properly packaged DRAMATIS reissue of ‘For Future Reference’. And there will be no need to wait until… ‘Oh! 2025!’
Dedicated to the memory of Ced Sharpley
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to RRussell Bell and Chris Payne
Featuring Interviews with RRussell Bell, Chris Payne and Tim Dry
Lifelong Numan fan Stephen Roper has devoted the last three years to compiling ‘Back Stage – A Book Of Reflections’. The book focuses on the years 1979 – 81, when GARY NUMAN was at the peak of his fame and commercial success.
It features first-hand accounts of those who were closest to him at the time including band members, record company executives, friends such as JOHN FOXX, THE SKIDS and DEVO plus support acts OMD, SIMPLE MINDS and NASH THE SLASH. The foreword is provided by Numan himself while he also contributes a chapter.
The result is a fascinating and often humorous insight into the eye of the storm, during which Numan was making headlines and topping the charts worldwide.
Numan’s rapid ascent to stardom took him by surprise as much as anyone else, and by his own admission he wasn’t fully prepared for the consequences. As former band member Chris Payne recollects, while ‘Are Friends Electric?’ was still at No1 and the media frenzy was in full force, Gary invited Chris to come on holiday… to a caravan in Weymouth! Chris agreed to go because “it sounded like a bit of a laugh”, but inevitably they were mobbed by fans and the press, and ended up cutting the holiday short.
During this three year period Numan toured extensively, both in the UK and worldwide. The Numan tours were famous for their jaw-dropping stage sets, culminating in the spectacular farewell shows at Wembley in 1981. As sound engineer Alan Morrison says in the book, “Gary needed at least three forty foot lorries to get his point across… but what an emphatic way to do it!”
Also included are the original tour itineraries (all produced on a manual typewriter) and sketches of stage sets, together with handwritten estimates for the productions. It is this level of detail and authenticity that makes Back Stage a compelling read for anyone with an interest in Numan’s glory years.
The Back Stage launch party took place on a Saturday night in Westminster, and brought together several of the book’s key contributors including Chris Payne and RRussell Bell from the Numan band and latterly of DRAMATIS, Tim Dry of SHOCK / TIK & TOK, Steve Webbon from Beggars Banquet and of course Stephen Roper himself. There was a packed house of Numan fans all keen to meet these key figures and have their books signed.
All of the book’s contributors gave their time generously, signing books and chatting freely to guests. With a soundtrack of Synth Britannia classics playing, there really was a party atmosphere!
The only poignant note of the evening was the absence of Ced Sharpley, the legendary drummer from the Numan band who was sadly taken ill just days before the event. Many guests wrote personal messages on a drum skin to be presented to Ced, in the hope that he would make a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, Ced’s bandmates RRussell Bell and Chris Payne took the opportunity to make a very special announcement – that DRAMATIS have reformed and that, after a gap of over 30 years, their second album is imminent.
This news should delight fans who still enjoy their first album For Future Reference. What will that creative partnership come up with? Watch this space!
Back Stage is a remarkable achievement and Stephen Roper should be commended, not only for tracking down the key characters involved, but for collating their contributions into a beautifully presented book that will delight many a Numan fan. Stephen’s enthusiasm for the project showed through at the launch party, as did the positive energy and goodwill of all involved.
Chris Payne and RRussell Bell kindly spared some time to talk to The Electricity Club about the Numan years, DRAMATIS and that big announcement…
RRussell, you were the last to join the band. So did the others put you through any initiations on ‘The Touring Principle’?
RRussell: No, I saw them on Old Grey Whistle Test and thought “what a brilliant band!” but I thought “that guitarist don’t look much”. I heard on the grapvine they needed one so I phoned up Beggars Banquet to see if they wanted another guitarist… but they said they knew nothing about it! Then I saw an advert in Melody Maker and I went along for the audition, there were four or five blokes there…in fact, Chris auditioned me although he says in the book that I was the only one to turn up! *laughs*
Chris: I’d like to jump in here…obviously, it was a bit of a joke but the reality is that there were twenty guitarists auditioned over a two day period and RRussell was by far the most interesting, innovative and outstanding. That’s what should have been in the book! *laughs*
RRussell: That’s what we like to hear! The first thing I did was this TV in Holland, we were staying in a ‘Boatel’. We got taken out by the record company and we were heading back in about five cars. I’d just nicked this big plastic lobster from the restaurant and got in this car with this Dutch bloke. After about a hundred yards, we crashed into a parked car! I’d smashed my face on the windscreen and was virtually unconscious when this guy shouted “QUICK, GET OUT! RUN!” because if you get caught for drunk driving in Holland, it’s mandatory prison for a week! So I jumped out and I’m running down the street with a lobster in my hand! From thence on, we used to nicked lobsters from everywhere…I’ve got a big collection of plastic lobsters! *laughs*
What’s the story behind you sabotaging OMD’s tape recorder Winston?
Chris: That was just a bit of fun! They were really good and had some great songs. But I just had this thing in my head that there’s a tape recorder there in place of musicians… that’s just Chris Payne being his altruistic self!
So I put the brake on it at the last show at Hammersmith Odeon. Andy McCluskey would come out and say “I’m Andy, this is Paul and this is Winston”…
RRussell: …me, Chris and Gary were behind the curtain tossing pennies at them and they went to turn the tape recorder on but because we’d put the brake on, nothing happened!
Chris: We were just p*ssing ourselves! At the end of a tour, there are always comedy moments… OMD were a really good support band, the best support act you could have got for the time actually! Fantastic!
RRussell: SIMPLE MINDS weren’t bad…
Chris: …yes, but that was later in Europe. They were phenomenal, one of the few bands to tour with us because we had people like NASH THE SLASH, HOHOKAM who were solo or two guys. Who else did we have? Oh yes, SHOCK!
Legend has it that GARY NUMAN only booked SHOCK for the Wembley shows because he fancied one of the girls… who was it?
Chris: Probably all three!!
RRussell: It was Carole Caplin funnily enough! To be honest, there was a line of people who fancied Carole… she was so fit! *laughs*
Ah, she wore that gold cone bikini during ‘Trois Gymnopedies’…
Chris: …she got on really well with my sister! *laughs*
RRussell: I don’t like the way this is going! *laughs*
RRussell, you got quite adept at multi-tasking with guitars, violin, synths, tambourine, electronic percussion…
RRussell: …bass pedals, saxophone! I could play violin already and I was ok on keyboards but sax, I had to learn and did a crash course. I can only play about four things on it! I had to do Mick Karn’s solo on ‘She’s Got Claws’ at Wembley… to this day, that’s about the only thing I can remember how to play. Funnily enough, I got booked to do a session with this jazz band and I walked in with my guitar, but they said they wanted me to play sax! Thankfully, it was a short little bit but I had to phone a mate who played sax to ask him how to play F# as I’d not done that before!
When you did ‘She’s Got Claws’ on that final night at Wembley (and it’s immortalised on the ‘Micromusic’ DVD and ‘Living Ornaments 81’ CD), you all got out of synch with the backing track…
RRussell: That can happen…
Chris: …you’ll probably find that the backing track got out of synch with me!! *laughs*
RRussell: Basically, if you can’t hear the sequencer part… one of the problems at Wembley was there was a massive bounce back from the wall and it was an awkward delay. As you walked away from your monitor, you’re hearing almost half a second delay so you get slower and slower. But at the end of the day, we followed Ced cos he had cans usually.
Chris: You’ve got to bear in mind that monitors were absolutely crucial for the configuration, these days you have ear pieces but then, you were playing a wide stage…
RRussell: …it was 80 feet wide!
Chris: And I was completely cocooned from the other keyboard player and I couldn’t see the drummer or anything! So you were totally reliant on the monitor and if that went down, you were totally stung!
You mentioned Ced Sharpley who is very much in our thoughts…
RRussell: …yes, the three of us were so tight. We were best mates for ten years, really close.
Chris: And we were the mainstay of DRAMATIS…
RRussell: …we were DRAMATIS!!! *laughs*
I understand you have an announcement?
RRussell: Yes, DRAMATIS is back together and releasing the second album, we’ve recorded most of it including tracks that we played live in 1982… ‘Sand & Stone’, ‘Every Night & Day’. The rest of it is new. It’s sounding really good.
Chris: This could be a Guinness Book of Records, the longest time taken for a second album release ever! 31 years!
Ced’s got this status of a legendary drummer who’s influenced the Hip-Hop community, did you see that coming back in the day?
RRussell: If we had, we’d have done it ourselves! *laughs*
Chris: Well, it doesn’t surprise because he’s a great percussionist and brought that to his drumming.
A lot of GARY NUMAN’s stuff was kind of mechanical, it had to be for the nature of the music but Ced brought that extra little thing because of the way he drums. He wouldn’t just play very KRAFTWERK type rhythms, he’d add something to the pieces.
When you were touring America, were you aware that the urban street kids were getting into GARY NUMAN?
Chris: Not at all…
RRussell: …not at that time. I remember Gary’s dad Tony came up to me and told me AFRIKA BAMBAATAA got in touch and wanted to do a collaboration with Gary and I said “BRILLIANT” and Tony said “who is he?”. I said “Tell Gary to do it” and Tony went “NAH!”*laughs*
Chris: How cool would that have been?
RRussell: It happened much later, but not then!
Were there any ‘Spinal Tap’ moments like getting lost trying to find your position on the massive stage sets or the crew playing practical jokes?
RRussell: There was one classic where the production was being built to Gary’s specs and there was supposed to be this square cage that came with him in from a truss…
But they done it in metres instead of feet so it was like the size of a shark cage! He went “I can get the whole f***ing band in this!” It was supposed to be two feet square, not two metres!
So it’s the opposite of ‘Stonehenge’?
RRussell: YES! EXACTLY! *laughs*
Chris: There was also things like you’d play Glasgow Barrowlands which had this roller skating rink and the stage was configured in such a way that you couldn’t get everything in. So me and the other keyboard player were hidden and all you could see was the top of my head!
RRussell: I had a platform and to get on it, I had to climb up a ladder and then crawl through this hole to get on stage… it was like potholing!
Chris: On ‘The Fury’ tour, we all came out in dry ice and this thing rose up and we all came on stage. Gary went “GO! GO!” and we were just covered in dry ice and I walked straight into a pole and smashed my head! I was totally disorientated, walked to wrong set of keyboards and for the first couple of numbers, I could barely play!
RRussell: We used to do this dance like THE SHADOWS on the last track of one shows and one of the crew taped my ankles together… and one of the crew, Archie came on stage in New Zealand with a tray of drinks completely naked!
The Teletour had those steep ramps? Did you ever go a*se over tit?
RRussell: Yeah, we used the same ramps at Wembley and we had diving boots on just to get some grip… but you had to take a run at it!
I usually used a radio pack but at this Wembley show, I was using a lead on my guitar so I came running down the ramp for this big guitar solo; Brian May and Jimmy Page were in the audience, and my roadie had put a short lead in the bloody guitar and it pulled out… I was looking round as if to say “can you plug me in again?” and he was sat there reading! *laughs*
You used to do this funny dance during ‘M.E.’
RRussell: I signed up as a guitarist and having to do all this other stuff… it wasn’t a dance, I was trying to destroy those bloody pie-tins! I had four Synare3 syndrums and used to break all of Ced’s drumsticks on them! I thought “If I break them, I won’t have to play them and they can put it on a sequence”… so I used to hit them as hard as I possibly could! It was hate really, pure emotion! God, they’re bloody tough things, they’re still working now I think! I thought I could either tap them and look like a w*nker or thrash the s*it out of them!
What keyboards were you using and how were you finding setting the sounds up, especially when the lights went down?
Chris: It was a nightmare, I think on one tour I had over eighteen keyboards, some were never used as they were back-ups… two Polymoogs, two Minimoogs, an ARP Odyssey…
RRussell: …I was the guitarist and I had five synths!! I had a Polymoog, two Minimoogs, Moog Taurus pedals, Synares and a Roland guitar synth!
Chris: Everything could breakdown, they’d go out of tune…
Was there any particular device that you never looked forward to playing?
Chris: A bit later on, the Prophet5… nightmare!
RRussell: I had this thing called The Clap!! It made a sound like a bunch of people clapping and it had a foot pedal… I thought if I just stand there, everyone will think I look bored so I picked the pedal up and ‘clapped’ it…I hated that! *laughs*
Now for a trip down memory lane, we have the 1981 GARY NUMAN Yearbook! You’re all pin-ups here… RRussell, you look like the fifth member of KRAFTWERK. Can you remember what your ambition was?
RRussell: Yes, to play the first gig on the moon! What a memory eh?
Are you still working on that one?
RRussell: Yes, but it’s not going great! *laughs*
Can you remember who was your favourite female singer?
RRussell: In those days… KATE BUSH? LENE LOVICH? JULIE LONDON? Ah, PAT BENATAR!
Yes, PAT BENATAR…
RRussell: …she was quite hot as well!
Chris, can you remember who your favourite singer was at that time was?
Chris: KATE BUSH?
No, it was MARIE OSMOND!!! *everyone laughs*
Chris: I think I might have been making that one up!
RRussell: Nothing he says in this ‘Back Stage’ book is reliable, you’ve seen what he’s like! I rest my case! *laughs*
The Electricity Club also chatted to Tim Dry aka Tik, one half of TIK & TOK but also, a member of New Romantic dance troupe SHOCK who supported GARY NUMAN at the three farewell Wembley shows. He subsequently worked with him on the ‘Warriors’ tour and two tracks for TIK & TOK’s debut album ‘Intolerance’…
How did you get invited by GARY NUMAN to do the Wembley Shows?
Tim: SHOCK did a show at The Embassy Club in London and there’s GARY NUMAN, standing there on his own clutching a can of coke so we went up to say “Hi”. He said “I really love your show, I’ve got these gigs at Wembley, would you be my support act?” and we thought “Yeah! Right!”. But he was serious so we went down to Shepperton Studios to rehearse and that was the first time I actually felt the power of the music. It was monumentally loud.
One funny story was that Gary came along to see us later at this tiny gig in a horrible club out of town, somewhere going north. He’s watching us unrecognised doing our show. So we’re all in the dressing room afterwards and he’s sitting there with us when this fan bursts in and goes “HEY! I’ve heard GARY NUMAN’s in here” and he pans round the room, passes Gary and says to me “Are you Gary Numan?”, I said “no” so he walked off!
How was it at Wembley?
Tim: We’d come back from New York performing to maybe three hundred people in a club which was in your face. But coming out on stage in the blackout with the dry ice going and we started doing this weird movement, you couldn’t see the audience. It’s only later on in the show when the lights come up that bloody hell, there’s all these thousands of people! We did a forty minute set and the deal was that the three girls in SHOCK would do ‘Trois Gymnopedies’ when Gary went off to change his cossie while Sean and I would do our robotic thing to one of his numbers. But we came out on the wrong number cos we were so nervous! We said sorry to Gary but he said “Brilliant, do the same tomorrow night”.
You supported him on the’ Warriors’ tour as TIK & TOK…
Tim: Normally a major star support act gets short shrift… the audience normally go to the bar but for us, they were there. It was several weeks on the road and we always used to help his mum with her cases, she was such a sweetheart making sure we ate properly.
How do you look back on working with GARY NUMAN?
Tim: Gary is the most open, self effacing guy I’ve ever met. After the tour, we were making an album and asked Gary if he would play on a track called ‘Show Me Something Real’. He came to our studio with a Polymoog and Prophet5, plays these synth lines in one take, goes into the booth to do a backing vocal and then he’s off.
And then he said: “I’ve got this song ‘A Child With The Ghost’, would you like to record it?”… he’s giving us one of his songs to record!! So we did it. It was quite difficult for me to sing because Gary has a very kind of strange inflection timing wise but I managed to get it right and we had this girl Tessa Niles sing backing vocals who then went off to work with Gary as well. I remember thinking this was a profoundly beautiful song he written for Paul Gardiner. How generous is that? Not pretentious in any way, shape or form.
CED SHARPLEY, drummer with GARY NUMAN between 1979 to 1992 has sadly passed away following a heart attack last week.
The tragic news was announced on Twitter by his fellow band mate RRussell Bell who worked with him in GARY NUMAN’s band and DRAMATIS: “Just heard that my dear friend and colleague, Ced Sharpley passed away this evening. Words aren’t enough”. GARY NUMAN himself said on Twitter: “I don’t know what to say. Shocked and very, very sad”
Ced had been due to be a special guest at the GARY NUMAN ‘Back Stage’ book launch party with RRussell Bell and Chris Payne last weekend in London. A reformation of DRAMATIS was announced with a new album on the way and there were hopes that Ced would make a full recovery.
The Electricity Club had chatted to RRussell and Chris about Ced’s distinct drumming style. Chris Payne said “He’s a great percussionist and brought that to his drumming. A lot of GARY NUMAN’s stuff was kind of mechanical, it had to be for the nature of the music but Ced brought that extra little thing because of the way he drums. He wouldn’t just play very KRAFTWERK type rhythms, he’d add something to the pieces”.
His breaks on tracks such as ‘Cars’, ‘Metal’ and ‘Films’ from ‘The Pleasure Principle’ were later to become highly influential on the US Hip-Hop scene. AFRIKA BAMBAATAA in particular was a big fan. He also worked on what became VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ with Chris Payne and Billy Currie which was composed during soundchecks on 1979’s ‘Touring Principle’. However, due to a contractual issue relating to his previous band DRUID who were signed to EMI, he wasn’t credited as a writer on the recording.
Originating from Cape Town, Ced joined TUBEWAY ARMY in 1979 just in time to promote the single release of ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with key appearances on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ and ‘Top Of The Pops’. These were to make GARY NUMAN the first synthesizer pop star virtually overnight. Other than a hiatus with DRAMATIS between 1981 to 1982, Ced played with GARY NUMAN on every tour (except the 1987 ‘Exhibition’ tour) up to 1992 and contributed to many of his albums including ‘Telekon’, ‘Dance’, ‘Warriors’ and ‘Berserker’.
Ced was a big favourite with the Numanoids and his tenure in GARY NUMAN’s band during the synth pioneer’s imperial years will remain a highly cherished memory for those who had the pleasure of witnessing those sensational live shows and savouring those innovative recordings.